St. Mary’s County Commissioner John O’Connor was “preaching to the choir” in his remarks at the annual Veterans Breakfast and Open House on Nov. 9 at the College of Southern Maryland’s La Plata campus.

O’Connor (R) served more than seven years in the U.S. Army, and he spoke about the bond that people in the service share in his address to the group of community members and CSM faculty, staff and students, many of whom were veterans, according to a release from CSM.

“We’re loyal to one another. We’re loyal to our country,” O’Connor said.

Using his best friend and “battle buddy,” Shawn Winn, as an example of this bond, O’Connor shared stories of how he met Winn and how, over their years of service together, they watched out for one another, joked during dangerous situations and offered support during injuries and recoveries. “After I was shot, he pulled me out,” O’Connor said.

“In service … you don’t have to know where that person is, but there’s a bond, an unspoken bond, there,” he said.

That connection that veterans feel with one another was mentioned repeatedly by students at the breakfast involved in the CSM Student Veterans Organization, one of the event’s sponsors. Providing ways to foster that connection at the college is one of the ways CSM supports the 730 students using veteran benefits at the college.

The CSM Veterans Resource Center is located at the La Plata campus and is a critical gathering point for the college’s veterans. In addition to offering a place where veterans can meet and relax or work on their studies at one of the computer stations, it is a place to get information about benefits and other programs available to veterans on campus. CSM also employs a fulltime veterans affairs coordinator, Robert Henry, USN (retired), who assists students at three of the CSM campuses.

One of the guests at the Nov. 9 event, Michael Arnaud, 47, of Huntingtown is a homeland security major at CSM. He served eight years in the U.S. Army and National Guard. He said he appreciates the resource center space at CSM.

“It’s a place where we can go and do our school work and we’re with other veterans,” Arnaud said. “It makes the college experience easier.” It is easier because at the center or whenever he is with other veterans, he is with people who understand, Arnaud said.

“They’re my brothers. It’s easy to establish that rapport. It’s difficult to explain,” he said, adding that in the service they were taught to rely on one another so that everyone can be successful together. “What gets you through is your guy on your left and the guy on your right.”

Jeremy Foster, 33, of Waldorf is president of the CSM Student Veterans Organization and works to continue that supportive atmosphere at the college. After serving in the U.S. Army for 12 years, including three deployments in the Middle East, Foster is now a cybersecurity student at CSM. In addition, Foster is employed by the Veterans Administration to help educate veterans about their benefits.

He said that for veterans to return to college or to start college after leaving the service is a “readjustment.” There is often an age difference with other college students and there is definitely an experience difference, he said. Foster’s work with other students who are veterans is a way for him to serve and help ease the transition, he added.

“For me, I’ve always wanted to help and give back,” Foster said.

Keith Mitchell, 50, of Waldorf is another CSM student and veteran who participated in the breakfast. Mitchell served for five years in the U.S. Army, including service in Europe during Desert Storm.

Arriving on campus to study graphic design and photography, Mitchell said it was “shaky” at first. But getting involved at the CSM Veterans Resource Center made all the difference. “You didn’t feel alone,” Mitchell said.

CSM President Maureen Murphy spoke at the breakfast, thanking the faculty, students and visitors who are veterans. “Your service has protected us, and we’re grateful,” Murphy said. “Service comes at a sacrifice, and we know that.”

In addition to the breakfast and an open house that followed at the CSM Veterans Resource Center, the college showed appreciation to its military veterans with a recognition ceremony sponsored by the student association at the Prince Frederick campus on Nov. 10. CSM also participated in the Veterans Day Parade in Leonardtown on Nov. 11.

CSM is the fifth largest veteran-serving college or university in Maryland. The college is approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which allows eligible veterans, service members and certain dependents to receive VA educational benefits for credit certificate and associate degree programs.

For information about CSM veteran and military support services, email veteransbenefits@csmd.edu or visit www.csmd.edu/Veterans.